All posts by Mark Bauerlein


How to Recruit for the Humanities

In the most recent American Freshman Survey, the top reason for going to college was “to be able to get a better job,” with 85.9 percent of respondents rating it as “very important.” Only half of the respondents rated “to make me a more cultured person” as “very important” (50.3 percent).

No wonder the humanities now collect only around 12 percent of bachelor’s degrees, including history.  (See the Humanities Indicators project for handy compilations of data.)  According to the MLA, all the fore…


The Millennial Vote

In 2008, as everybody knows, the youth vote turned out to be one of the strongest Democratic cohorts in recent political history.  Voters under 30 went for Obama at nearly a 2-to-1 rate, an enormous gap that looked ominous for Republicans for many years to come.  College students in particular showed extremely high “unfavorability” for Sarah Palin and for social conservatives in general.  Even though only 51 percent of Millennials bothered to cast their vote in 08, their steep tilt to one side …


The Bush Test

(From Image Editor via Flickr/CC)

Here’s a conversation-stopper: “George W. Bush.”

Or rather, the mention of the man’s name halts one conversation and ignites another one.  In gatherings with academic friends and colleagues, it has a visceral effect.  I’ve witnessed it time and again as people have talked about the economy or about education or about the Middle East and I recalled No Child Left Behind or the highway/transportation bill or Bush’s disgust with Arafat, always adding the ex-…


Liberals’ Huge Blind Spot Regarding Conservative Intellectuals

Let's get oriented, shall we? (Photo by Dru Bloomfield via Flickr/CC)

Russell Jacoby’s article on conservative anti-intellectualism in this week’s Chronicle Review opens with a fair appraisal.

“Are conservative intellectuals anti-intellectual?  The short answer must be no.  Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Harvey Mansfield, Wilfred M. McClay—conservative thinkers have championed scholarship, learning, and history.”

For conservatives who are tired of hearing liberals and leftists r…


Historical Evidence and Thomas Jefferson

1800 portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, via Wikipedia

A few years ago in a meeting on high-school standards for English-language arts, a debate broke out over the propriety of a recommended reading list.  I and one other person pushed for a set list of titles, my preference going so far as to accept nothing less than 50 years old.  Everybody else objected, some of them bitterly.  At one point, when the historical importance of foundational U.S. documents came up, one man talked …


Grow Up? Eh, Maybe Next Decade

The great John D. MacDonald saw the trend back in 1975: “But there are one hell of a lot more grown-up ladies than grown-up men” (The Dreadful Lemon Sky).  Or, more recently, Tony Soprano, who complains, “Whatever happened to Gary Cooper?”

Several recent books say the same thing.
In Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys, Kay Hymowitz, argues that a “major demographic event” has happened in the last decades.  Men in their 20s and early-30s have forged a new life st…

The Adversarial Humanities

As the situation at University of Virgina unfolded and press reports leaked out as to why President Sullivan abruptly resigned, one suggestion stood out for humanities professors.  It appeared in a Washington Post story that came out on the 17th.  It stated:

“Besides broad philosophical differences, they [Board members who wanted Sullivan out] had at least one specific quibble: They felt Sullivan lacked the mettle to trim or shut down programs that couldn’t sustain themselves financially, such…


The Curse of Monk and the Duty of the Humanities

(Photo by Flickr/CC user racheocity)

If you have a disposition for “art music,” say, the albums of Thelonious Monk, circulation in public places has become increasingly irritating.  In grocery stores, at airport gates, in coffee houses, on the bus, in the lobby, from the cars at the red light . . . pop music blares through speakers and screens in inescapable pulsation.  You love Brilliant Corners, Monk’s Dream, and the rest, and the sounds filling the air at every commercial stopping place (so i…


Andrew Keen’s Countercultural Take

(Photo by Flickr/CC user kodomut)

Here is one version of youth in the Digital Age:

“Students, perhaps without even realizing it, are already seeking out ways to personalize their learning.  Looking to address what they perceive as deficiencies in classroom experiences, students are turning to online classes to study topics that pique their intellectual curiosity, to message and discussion boards to explore new ideas about their world, or to online collaboration tools to share their expertise …


Elizabeth Warren’s Judgment

(Photo by David Shankbone via Flickr/CC)

As has been amply reported (among other places, here and here and here) and commented upon (here by George Will, here by Mark Steyn, here by Charlotte Allen), Elizabeth Warren claimed Native American identity for several years in the late 80s and early 90s in a legal directory that is “often used by law recruiters to make diversity-friendly hires” (New York Times).  Furthermore, Harvard law school claimed repeatedly that it had a Native American female o…


The Context of the Riley Affair

A few months back in the opening essay of First Things (Aug/Sept 2011), editor R.R. Reno opened with an assertion that would strike most academics as backwards.  “But as a culture,” he stated, “liberalism has become insular and narrow-minded.  It lacks the capacity for the generous appreciation of other points of view needed in a pluralistic society.  That capacity is more likely to be found today among conservatives, particularly religious conservatives.”

To the liberal intelligentsia, of cours…


Insecurity in Academia

Much of the commentary on the firing of Naomi Riley from The Chronicle has focused on the substance in her original post.  The main charge against her is that she condemned a field without even reading the evidence and that her follow-up was glib and evasive.  The main charge against the respondents is that they are mouthpieces of political correctness tossing irresponsible, ad hominem charges of racism.

The substance of Riley’s charges is an empirical matter that may be settled through, for i…


Naomi Riley and Her Respondents

The most significant element in the controversy surrounding Naomi Riley’s blog posting is the disproportionate nature of the responses.  Consider the following.

The Northwestern faculty letter includes this sentence: “To write such disparaging comments about young scholars and their expressions of intellectual curiosity is cowardly, uninformed, irresponsible, repugnant, and contrary to the mission of higher education.”

Northwestern graduate students weigh in with a defense that offers these rema…


An Inconceivable Discretion

Alsop (right) with journalist Turner Catledge (photo from Wikipedia)

In the Wall Street Journal last week, Terry Teachout tells a story that might serve as a sober parable for our time.  It’s about Joseph Alsop, a prominent political columnist during the 50s and 60s, about whom a play has just opened (starring John Lithgow–see review here).  Noting Alsop’s personal condition as a “closeted homosexual,” Teachout recalls one disturbing episode in his life, “something that happened to Mr. Alsop whe…


Liberals, Conservatives, and the Haidt Results

Jonathan Haidt’s research and writings have received ample notice in recent months, including this profile in The Chronicle, this upcoming panel at American Enterprise Institute, and this article by Haidt in Reason Magazine One reason is that Haidt and colleagues have designed studies that attempt to measure differences between conservatives and liberals, and the results have been newsworthy.

Among his premises is the identification of six pairings of “moral concerns,” namely, care/harm, fairn…


Fleeting Attention Shortchanges the Art of Patience

Here is an interesting study that came out a few days ago.  Using “biometric belts” and glasses with cameras inside, it followed 30 people, some of them digital natives and some digital immigrants, for 300 nonworking hours and counted their media habits.  The natives, it turned out, switch media platforms 27 times per hour.  (The rate was 35 percent higher than immigrants’ rate.)

The quick changes younger people make in leisure time worries advertisers because advertisers need eyes and ears to s…


Presidential Rhetoric

It is increasingly urgent and necessary that someone in the White House, or a high figure in the Democratic Party, or, perhaps best, an ex-President remind President Obama that he is the president of the entire United States and every citizen in them.  For his entire term, every president is the leader of those who voted for him and those who didn’t, those who like him and those who despise him.  This is one of the toughest tests of leadership, that is, the ability to lead those who disagree wi…


All Summary, No Critical Thinking

I teach freshman composition nearly every semester, and I’m changing my assignments.  I require 25 or so pages of finished, edited essay writing for the course to go along with 10 or 12 one-page homework exercises (such as: “Why are books dangerous in Montag’s society?”).  Usually, the essay requirement involves three or four papers that have a thesis and an argument, with lots of analysis.  Sometimes, though, I’ve tried short papers now and then, 2-page assignments that require one simple metho…


The Enemy of the Humanities: Speed

How often do works of genius happen in the humanities fields?  Not works of intelligent, careful scholarship, which appear every year, but works that alter basic assumptions and practices, that change thinking.  These are the works that you can’t ignore if they touch upon your expertise, the ideas and methods that seem to mark a division of pre- and post-, as in literary criticism before Derrida and after.

In my area of literary studies, genuinely original and incisive books and essays come alon…


Evidence for Core Knowledge

(Photo by Flickr CC user Mark Samsom)

The findings of an important study came out last week, and they were reported in The New York Times here.  A pilot program conducted by the NYC Education Department and implemented in city elementary schools, funded by a private charity and started by school chief Joel Klein in 2008, compared reading achievement for two sets of students, those instructed in the “balanced literacy” method, and those instructed in the Core Knowledge curriculum.

The results wer…